The Toronto Raptors are one win away from playing for the first championship in franchise history.

Toronto travelled to Milwaukee for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals and defeated the Bucks 105-99 at the Fiserv Forum.

The victory gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead.

The Bucks appeared in control as they won each of the first two games at home. The Raptors, however, rebounded with two wins of their own at Scotiabank Arena before coming out on top on Thursday.

The series will shift back to Toronto for Game 6 on Saturday.

Here are three takeaways from the Raptors' road win.

 

Kawhi Leonard delivers again

Kawhi Leonard picked his spots on Thursday.

The Raptors star was not as aggressive attacking the rim and did not have the ball in his hands as often as he it had earlier in the series. But, that changed in the fourth quarter.

Leonard opened Toronto's scoring in the final period with a pair of mid-range jumpers and followed with two long three-pointers, the second of which put his team ahead with a little less than eight minutes to play.

In total, Leonard finished with 35 points on 11-of-25 shooting. He also added seven rebounds, along with nine assists, and was the main reason why Toronto came away with the win.

Fred VanVleet comes up big

Fred VanVleet will always remember his performance in Game 5.

The backup Raptors guard finished with 21 points and was plus-28 for the game. He also hit seven of his nine three-point attempts, including a huge triple late in the fourth quarter.

VanVleet was terrible to open the series as he was just four-of-20 shooting over the first three games and some were calling for his minutes to be reduced. But, he has reached double figures in each of the past two matchups and appears to have found his rhythm, which is a good sign for the Raptors.

 

Bucks' lineup change doesn't pay off

Early in the game, it seemed as if the Bucks were going to benefit from coach Mike Budenholzer's adjustments.

Budenholzer replaced Nikola Mirotic with Malcolm Brogdon in the starting lineup, which gave Milwaukee an additional ball handler and more shooting in their first unit. That change allowed Eric Bledsoe – who had struggled throughout the series – to focus more on creating his own offense.

For a time, that strategy worked and Bledsoe (20 points) was much improved in Game 5. The Bucks' bench, however, lacked scoring punch without Brogdon (18 points) – Mirotic did not score in nine minutes – and the move may have ultimately hurt the team.

It will be interesting to see who Budenholzer starts on Saturday.

The Milwaukee Bucks ran away with Game 2 against the Toronto Raptors.

Milwaukee had to come from behind to win just days ago, opening the Eastern Conference finals with victory at Fiserv Forum. But this time around, there was no coming back — or even looking back — as the Bucks won 125-103 on Friday.

"I think mentally we were ready for this game," Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said afterwards.

The team entered Game 1 after a week of rest and felt a little rusty, which certainly was not the case in Game 2.

The Bucks' winning efforts were led by MVP hopeful Antetokounmpo – who finished with 30 points and had some help from the usual, and new, bench players.

Antetokounmpo's talent was on full display both offensively and defensively, as he grabbed 17 rebounds and recorded two blocks.

The Raptors looked to just two players for the bulk of their points — Kawhi Leonard (31) and Kyle Lowry (15) — and had little help elsewhere.

Milwaukee had an early advantage they would never relinquish and claimed a 2-0 series advantage as the teams prepare for Game 3 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Here are three takeaways from the Bucks' Game 2 win

 

There was absolutely no stopping Bucks

Milwaukee led from the opening minutes when they went on a 9-0 run. Toronto knew they would need to weather the storm of a dominant first quarter, but it did not stop there.

The Bucks continued to build their lead and at the half, were up by 25 points. Milwaukee were beating the Raptors in every category, shooting better, grabbing rebounds and not making costly mistakes. It was a welcome performance after Game 1 when the Bucks shot 39.8 per cent from the field and just 25 per cent from three-point range.

In Game 2, Milwaukee finished 46.7 per cent (43 of 92) from the field and 31.7 per cent (13 of 41) from long distance.

Unlike the first game, where the Bucks had to come from behind to win with Antetokounmpo having an off night, they easily took this on their home court.

 

Bucks bench continue to help lift team

In Game 1, Malcolm Brogdon finished with 15 points off the bench. Brogdon was again a key role player as he netted 14 points on Friday but this time, he was joined by another Buck.

Ersan Ilyasova had an impressive outing with 17 points. It was his second-best game in the 2018-19 season, behind a 19-point performance in November.

The 32-year-old forward was the second-leading scorer for Milwaukee off seven-of-11 shooting and making two of his five three-point attempts. Still, he was not the only player to chip in off the bench.

George Hill also finished in double-digits (13 points) and three more players had at least two. 

 

It's becoming more clear: Raptors can't beat Bucks

Toronto needed more than Leonard if they wanted a chance against Milwaukee on Friday. Leonard, who played the one-man band, did not get that help and if the Raptors want to stay in this series, they will need to find help. Soon.

Pascal Siakam, the team's second-leading scorer, had just eight points and fouled out with a little more than four minutes remaining.

When Leonard and Lowry did finally get rest, Toronto's bench did not do much. Norman Powell chipped in 14 points while Serge Ibaka, who was primed to have a big night, had just eight.

Leonard, Lowry and Powell were the only players to score 10 or more points and that just will not cut it against the Antetokounmpo-led Bucks.

The match-up between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors is one of the most intriguing of the entire NBA playoffs.

Milwaukee easily advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by topping the Boston Celtics. Meanwhile, Toronto managed to squeeze past the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games.

Top-seeded Milwaukee and Toronto were the two leading teams in the East throughout 2018-19. Both have at least two All-Stars and multi-dimensional offenses.

The Bucks beat the Raptors three of the four times the teams met during the regular season.

Ahead of Game 1 in Milwaukee on Wednesday, we pick out three things that could be crucial in the series.

  Kawhi v Giannis

This is the match-up everyone wants to see.

Raptors wing Kawhi Leonard and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo are two of the game's brightest stars.

Each has delivered for his team time and again this postseason. Antetokounmpo is difficult to stop around the rim, and Leonard hit the biggest shot in Raptors history when he knocked down a dramatic fourth-quarter buzzer-beater in Game 7 against Philadelphia.

Leonard and Antetokounmpo are go-to scorers who can also change a game defensively. It will be enormous fun to watch them face off multiple times.

Battle of the benches

The Bucks' bench is one of their strengths. The Raptors definitely cannot say the same.

Milwaukee will rely on their second unit for long stretches and can depend on as many as nine players. Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill and Pat Connaughton have all made an impact for the Bucks so far in the playoffs, and Malcolm Brogdon returned from a foot injury in Game 5 against the Celtics.

Toronto, on the other hand, have received little from their reserves, which has forced coach Nick Nurse to play his starters heavy minutes throughout the postseason. The Raptors will hope that trend does not continue.

  OG Anunoby’s status

It is unclear whether OG Anunoby will return in this series.

The 21-year-old Toronto forward underwent an emergency appendectomy in mid-April and has yet to play in the playoffs. He did some light work at practice earlier this week.

Anunoby, however, is still at least a week from ramping up activities, which means he will not make it back onto the court until the latter part of the series.

He is only likely to feature if the series stretches to Game 6 or 7, scheduled for May 25 and 27.

If he does manage to make his 2019 postseason debut and is healthy against the Bucks, the towering Anunoby would provide the Raptors with another player capable of guarding Antetokounmpo.

That could make all the difference.

This promises to be a good one.The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks will face off in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with Game 1 set for Sunday.

Both teams enter the series after first-round sweeps, as the Bucks dominated the Detroit Pistons from start to finish while Boston went unchallenged by the Indiana Pacers.  

Boston and Milwaukee are two of the most talented teams in the conference and the floor will be filled with stars throughout the series.

Here are three things that could separate the two.

 

The Celtics' chemistry 

The Celtics entered the season as the favourites to win the East after reaching the conference finals in 2017-18, but they were inconsistent for large stretches.

Boston were just 20-14 at one point in late December and lost four in a row as recently as last month. Since then, however, the Celtics finished with wins in six of their last eight regular-season games and looked dominant in their four playoff matchups against the Pacers.

The Celtics, led by Kyrie Irving, appear to be hitting their stride at the right time, which could pose a threat to the top-seeded Bucks.

 

Malcolm Brogdon's potential return

The Bucks' playoff rotation could get even deeper.

Milwaukee are expecting Malcolm Brogdon to be back on the court at some point this round, coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters earlier this week, although he likely will not play in the series' first two games. The 26-year-old guard has been out since suffering a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot in mid-March.

Brogdon had a fantastic season, as he averaged 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 28.6 minutes per game. He is a knockdown shooter and also a solid creator next to Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Brogdon’s return - as long as he’s completely healthy - will provide a big boost to Milwaukee’s offense.

 

Boston's options to guard Giannis

Antetokounmpo will be a matchup nightmare for Boston.

The 24-year-old has developed into one of the best players in the NBA and is the front-runner to win the MVP award this season. He is difficult to stop in transition and when he attacks the rim.

The Celtics could start with Jaylen Brown on Antetokounmpo, and Gordon Hayward also should spend time covering him. Depending on lineup construction, center Al Horford may be asked to guard him, too.

None of these options are ideal, but the Celtics will need to find one that works in order to win the series. The absence of Marcus Smart - sidelined with an oblique injury - has a chance to hurt Boston here.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is no longer the first vice-president of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

James' four-year term expired, and the three-time NBA champion will be replaced by Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala.

Iguodala has been a vice-president with the NBPA since 2013.

"I am honoured to be chosen by my peers to step into this position and take on a larger responsibility within the NBPA," Iguodala said in a statement.

"I look forward to continuing my work with [NBPA executive director] Michele [Roberts], Chris Paul and the Executive Committee to accomplish the best possible outcomes for the union and our future members."

Stephen Curry and Carmelo Anthony will relinquish their positions on the committee. Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Bismack Biyombo will replace them as vice-presidents.

"Malcolm, Jaylen and Bismack have all shown a great commitment to the union since they arrived in the league," NBPA president Chris Paul said. "I have no doubt they will bring a fresh perspective and passion to the Executive Committee and I am excited to start working with them."

Paul, 33, is expected to serve as the NBPA president through 2023, while Iguodala is 35-years-old.

Brogdon, Brown and Biyombo are all younger than 27. 

 

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